The latter half of 2016 has involved a lot of work related travel for me. A short trip every week or so on average. My travel has largely been in state and has involved a lot of driving. I started this post on a plane home from a pseudo work-related trip to Atlanta and I remember being really ready to be home. After my Atlanta trip, I traveled for work again the following week and then again a week and a half after that. It is now December, and I have just returned from Sacramento and running the California International Marathon. At this point in 2016, I am pretty much over the traveling, a phrase I never thought I would say.
In general, I think that traveling is important, actually critical for each of us. When we travel and experience and engage with different people, environments, and cultures, we are all the better for it. There is so much to see and do, and so many people to meet and learn from. I have often romanticized traveling for work; wishing for one of those jobs that takes me all over the world on the company dime. While I am not giving up the dream of finding a job that offers me this perk, I am less inclined to believe it would be as fun as I had previously thought. My traveling has reminded me of the George Clooney movie, Up in The Air (2009), where he reaches some magical status with United Airlines because he travels all the time. He has his carry on packing strategy nailed down and knows U.S. airports like the back of his hand. Ultimately though, the story is about loneliness. He lacks connection to others because he is never “home,” whatever home actually means to his character.
The morning before flying back from Atlanta, I went on a long run. A great way to explore a new city and see it comprehensively. I signed up with an Atlanta running meet up group for part of it and got to meet 10 or so Atlanta runners. One of these runners shared that she was headed to Mexico City the next day. She was asked whether she could make this trip on a Thursday, 4 days before she would be required to leave. She talked about it like “ugh, I have to go to Mexico City tomorrow.” I am running alongside and thinking how freaking awesome is that? But now, as I reflect back on my in-state travel schedule these last few months, I understand where she is coming from. I am tired and the idea of flying to Mexico City exhausts me. Her company is a US/Danish owned company and she has traveled to Denmark and other locations fairly frequently. Perhaps like me, she is sick of it. Perhaps this “on the go” work schedule diminishes her capacity to find connection with others as she is never around long enough to build more than fleeting relationships. Of course, that is speculation on my part as she and I did not talk about that.
To be able to travel is itself a privilege, whether you are doing it for work or pleasure. Articulating a struggle with traveling is not to say I don't also recognize the tension between opportunity and fatigue. Being on the go, living out of a suitcase, infrequently eating at home and never feeling quite settled is draining. Whatever we do in our work, the more we do it, the less exciting it gets. At some point, the novelty wears off and it just becomes your life. When things become normal they cease to be as captivating and can often teeter over into feeling like a chore.
I didn’t plan well with my flight home from Atlanta and I didn’t bring headphones or a book. I remember being annoyed at myself for not more effectively planning ahead. I had booked a later flight and had zero recollection why I did that when I could easily have taken an earlier one. In a desperate attempt to maintain some level of alertness, I ordered two sugary and caffeinated drinks. Sadly, they did nothing for the overall fatigue my body felt being on the move all the time. At the time of this flight home, I was also at the height of marathon training (the long run I completed was 20 miles) and I just felt wiped out. My co-traveler and I had lamented about how ready we were to be home, to see our loved ones, and our pups. We craved sleeping in our own bed, eating our own food, and reconnecting with stability.
When I took my current position, I knew there would be travel. It seemed so cool at first to be traveling here, there, and everywhere and I was excited. Now however, I am rethinking much about my initial “Yes! Traveling for work is NO problem,” because I think it kind of is. My travel schedule is nothing like the runner I met in Atlanta or the fictional character in George Clooney’s film, but it still takes a toll and it is lonely. Even when meeting new people or traveling with colleagues, you are sometimes adrift in a new place, eating alone, wishing you could share it with friends or family. Have I hit my travel for work limit? Maybe. I know I am happier now that my flurry of trips is complete.
I guess the message in all this is to take care of yourselves. What may at first seem like a fantastic opportunity doesn't preclude the fact that it might get old or that it might get difficult. Take opportunity, certainly, but be thoughtful about it. Shiny, new things don't stay shiny forever. If you love to travel, and traveling is part of your work, the risk is that travel becomes synonymous with work and thus loses its shine.